Utah lawmakers again considered, and again declined to act, on two measures this past session that would have shed more light on the dreaded question of conflict of interest of legislators.

It wasn't until the 1980s that conflict of interest even raised its head in the Legislature.And, much to the displeasure of some long-time members, it just won't go away.

Usually, it's Democrats and/or fringe Republicans who talk about doing something to expose lawmakers' business/financial interests to better know who is pulling their strings.

But this year Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, co-chairman of the Executive Appropriations Committee, a main-stream GOP stalwart, introduced a bill that would have required significant financial disclosure by colleagues.

It died, quietly, in the Senate Rules Committee, kept there until the final days of the session and put to death by Hillyard himself.

"We can't get a good hearing on it now," Hillyard said the last week of the 45-day session. "Speaking realistically, all I could have hoped for was at least a public airing, a public hearing, this year and then have it debated during the interim (between sessions)."

Hillyard had his dead bill sent to an interim study committee - "hopefully, one that I sit on so I can be sure it will be heard."

Hillyard's bill would have required lobbyists, who already are supposed to register with the state, to give detailed accounts of what they spend on lawmakers, their entertainment, travel, gifts, etc.

But it also would have required lawmakers to give detailed disclosure of their finances, much like U.S. congressmen must do now.

In addition, it would have required attorneys - and Hillyard is one - to list clients who pay more than $25,000 into a law-maker/attorney's law firm each year.


You could almost see the lawyers in the Legislature squirming over that provision.

Rep. Frank Knowlton, R-Layton, also a conservative Republican and legislative leader, had a bill that died which would have required the more detailed reporting by lobbyists.

Sen. Alarik Myrin, R-Altamont, and Rep. Mont Evans, R-Riverton, have in past years introduced equally unsuccessful legislation as Hillyard and Knowlton now champion.

With Hillyard, Knowlton and other Republicans committed to some kind of conflict-of-interest legislation, it's probably only a matter of time before more stringent laws are passed.

"I just hope (the new laws) come before we have some kind of scandal," says Myrin.

What's all this about?

Utah has a citizen Legislature. Lawmakers get $65 a day for each day they serve - the 45-day sessions and the one or two days a month they spend in interim study meetings. They also get mileage and lodging expenses.

Such underpaid, part-time lawmakers must have outside jobs. Oh, some are retired and a couple are homemakers, but most are wage earners.

With a job comes a conflict of interest. Some conflicts are clear, others are subtle.

Knowlton and others think more reporting by lobbyists is one way to curb any abuse. The thinking goes if a lobbyist is going to pay for a St. George golfing trip - and some do - and must file how much he spends on a lawmaker's lodging and green fees, then maybe there won't be a trip - the lawmaker would be too embarrassed to accept the trip.

But Hillyard, Myrin and others think that goes only halfway. Lawmakers, too, must be responsible for reporting their own conflicts - for those conflicts are the most important, they say.

Two former state senators were "government/business consultants," a fancy term for paid lobbyists. That made some of their colleagues very nervous.

Attorneys/lawmakers are only a step removed from that profession. Their clients routinely ask them or one of their law partners to push or oppose legislation.

More and more often in recent years you see lawmaker/attorneys declaring a conflict of interest before a vote - a rare sight in the early 1980s.

Maybe more financial disclosure by lawmakers is coming. If so, it will be a long and painful process because legislators consider themselves members of an exclusive club, of high moral fiber.

And, as House Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, said this past session concerning Hillyard's bill: "I don't want people knowing if I lost money in the stock market. My constituents know me and if they don't trust me, well, they can vote me out."